Volts, A Panic-Mitigation Option

Volts: a newsletter about clean energy and politics

What with climate change accelerating and US politics falling apart, it’s pretty grim out there. Yet alongside these doom loops, somewhat anomalously, something good is happening: the transition away from fossil fuels to clean, carbon-free energy is underway, and it is accelerating every day

Our reading and listening options are constantly expanding and contracting, and especially with climate change and energy topics in particular it can be challenging to find options that do not simply induce panic. We have our regular go-to sources, like Yale e360, that has been creatively informative without just heaping on the bleak (any more than necessary, which it sometimes is). A recent discovery of an analytical source worth sharing is this newsletter/podcast combo by David Roberts. Below is the most recent podcast:

Volts podcast: rampant environmental rule-breaking and how to fix it, with Cynthia Giles

Designing rules (including climate rules) that are harder to break

The US has hundreds of environmental rules and regulations on the books, meant to achieve various environmental goals — clean up coal plants, reduce toxins in consumer products, limit agricultural waste, and so on.

Once these rules and regulations are put in place, most people don’t give them a lot of thought. To the extent they do, they tend to believe two things: one, that environmental rules are generally followed (maybe, what, 3-5 percent break the rules?), and two, that the answer to noncompliance is increased enforcement.

According to Cynthia Giles, both those assumptions are dead wrong.

 

Greenland Ends Drilling For Oil

Icebergs near Ilulissat, Greenland. Climate change is having a profound effect in Greenland with glaciers and the Greenland ice cap retreating. Ulrik Pedersen / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Thanks to Ecowatch for publishing this story by Andrea Germanos:

‘Future Belongs to Renewable Energy’: Greenland Ditches All Oil Drilling

Greenland announced Thursday a halt on new oil and gas exploration, citing climate and other environmental impacts.

“Great news!” responded the Center for International Environmental Law.

The government of Greenland, an autonomous Danish dependent territory, framed the move as necessary to transition away from fossil fuels. Continue reading

Appleseed, For Your Consideration

If your summer reading does not include some dystopian fiction and you want to consider adding some, for your consideration this review bhas a strong recommendation of the above book:

A Novel Charts Earth’s Path From Lush Eden to Barren Hellscape

Climate is everywhere in fiction these days. Omar El Akkad’s “American War,” Lydia Millet’s “A Children’s Bible,” N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, Carys Bray’s “When the Lights Go Out” and Selah Saterstrom’s “Slab” are just a few of the many recent novels to highlight global warming and related extreme weather. Continue reading

The Largest Forest In The World

Virgin Komi Forest in the northern Ural Mountains in the Komi Republic, Russia. MARKUS MAUTHE / GREENPEACE

We have not posted many times on the vastness of Russia, and its various natural resources, but they are worthy of more attention. Thanks to Yale e360:

Will Russia’s Forests Be an Asset or an Obstacle in Climate Fight?

New research indicating Russia’s vast forests store more carbon than previously estimated would seem like good news. But scientists are concerned Russia will count this carbon uptake as an offset in its climate commitments, which would allow its emissions to continue unchecked. Continue reading

Really, Australia?

The Unesco world heritage committee’s decision on the Great Barrier Reef’s ‘in danger’ status is currently scheduled for 23 July. Photograph: James Cook University/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been a couple months since we asked anyone the fundamental question. Ok, we acknowledge our not being qualified to make the scientific judgement on whether the Great Barrier Reef is in sufficient danger to be listed as such, officially. But UNESCO has the qualified scientists, so let them do their job without undue influence. It sure seems likely to help the entire world to see how fossil-fueled climate change is impacting such natural wonders. It would raise consciousness in a way that might even be good for Australia–whose government obviously thinks otherwise. Hopefully UNESCO will stick to its principles and resist this lobbying. When oil-based economies come to lend a hand, watch out for conflict of interest:

‘Fossil fuel friends’: Saudi Arabia and Bahrain back Australia’s lobbying on Great Barrier Reef

Exclusive: oil rich nations back push against Unesco recommendation to have reef placed on world heritage ‘in danger’ list Continue reading

Weird Weather, Prophets Of Doom & Denialism’s Winning Streak

Homes destroyed by a storm in New York state in 1962. Photograph: Bettmann/Getty/Guardian Design

Yesterday’s link to a “winner” story is bookended by today’s long read about the “losers”–those who can read this–of the climate change game. Deniers of climate change come in many forms, but a common theme according to this detailed story is anti-regulatory zealotry. Deniers have won the major battles of public opinion for the last 60 years, while those ringing alarm bells on climate change may now be declared victors, if that is the right word, in the realm of reality versus opinion:

Sixty years of climate change warnings: the signs that were missed (and ignored)

The effects of ‘weird weather’ were already being felt in the 1960s, but scientists linking fossil fuels with climate change were dismissed as prophets of doom

In August 1974, the CIA produced a study on “climatological research as it pertains to intelligence problems”. The diagnosis was dramatic. It warned of the emergence of a new era of weird weather, leading to political unrest and mass migration (which, in turn, would cause more unrest). Continue reading

Canopy Equity

The number of urban trees is shrinking due to storms, construction and insects: at the moment, the US is facing a projected loss of 8.3% in urban tree cover by 2060. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

Regardless of the viability of tree-planting as a solution to climate change, the need for more trees in some locations is overwhelming:

US needs 30m new trees to combat shade disparity, study finds

First ever nationwide tally of trees reveals how communities of color and poorer neighborhoods lack canopy

With vast swathes of the American west baking under a record-setting heatwave, a new study has revealed how unevenly trees are spread throughout cities in the United States and how much it disadvantages communities of color and the poor. Continue reading

Peak Oil & Consequences

Donald Pols, director of the environmental group Milieudefensie, celebrates on May 26 after a court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to slash its emissions. REMKO DE WAAL / ANP / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The hug says all you need to know. Our kids, our grandchildren, and generations to follow will all be wondering why we we fiddled so long while carbon burned. The consequences of choices we make now related to the future of fossil fuel use are epic:

Amid Troubles for Fossil Fuels, Has the Era of ‘Peak Oil’ Arrived?

For years, analysts have predicted that rising world oil consumption would peak and start declining in the coming decades. But with a recent string of setbacks for big oil companies and the rapid advance of electric vehicles, some now say that “peak oil” is already here.

An oil platform facility operated by French oil giant Total in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Angola in 2018. RODGER BOSCH / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

May was arguably the worst month ever for big oil — and the best for its opponents — as courts and corporate shareholders sided with environmental activists to humble the biggest of the fossil-fuel giants, culminating in “Black Wednesday.”

Electric taxis line up at a train station in Shenzhen, China in October, 2019. NIKADA VIA GETTY IMAGES

On that day, May 26, three events occurred that would have seemed nearly impossible not long ago: activists angry at ExxonMobil’s climate policies won three seats on its board of directors; Chevron shareholders voted to force the company to start cutting emissions; and a judge in the Netherlands ruled that Shell must slash its emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

So what’s next for big oil? Is the game up? Have we reached peak oil? Continue reading

Heat & Humanity

Last week, researchers at nasa and noaa found that “the earth is warming faster than expected.” Photograph by Kyle Grillot / Bloomberg / Getty

This week’s newsletter ponders how adaptable we are and serves as a reminder that we cannot take for granted that we are sufficiently so for the changes upon us:

It’s Not the Heat—It’s the Humanity

Rising air temperatures remind us that our bodies have real limits.

By Bill McKibben

It’s hard to change the outcome of the climate crisis by individual action: we’re past the point where we can alter the carbon math one electric vehicle at a time, and so activists rightly concentrate on building movements large enough to alter our politics and our economics. But ultimately the climate crisis still affects people as individuals—it comes down, eventually, to bodies. Which is worth remembering. In the end, we’re not collections of constructs or ideas or images or demographics but collections of arteries and organs and muscles, and those are designed to operate within a finite range of temperatures. Continue reading

When Renewables Are Less Expensive Than Coal…

A solar power plant in Gujarat, India. Renewable energy in the country would be cheaper than between 87% and 91% of new coal plants, the report says. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Looks like we are almost there:

Most new wind and solar projects will be cheaper than coal, report finds

Almost two-thirds of renewable energy schemes built globally last year expected to undercut coal costs

Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the world’s cheapest new coal plants, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Continue reading

Methane Leaks Plugged With Help From Above

Thanks to Public Broadcasting Service (USA) for this:

Satellites seek out methane leaks from pipelines, oil fields, landfills and farms

Satellite imagery shows a Russian gas pipeline (left) and highlights huge amounts of methane (right) being emitted from the pipeline on September 6, 2019. Kayrros and Modified Copernicus Data, 2019

The threat was invisible to the eye: tons of methane billowing skyward, blown out by natural gas pipelines snaking across Siberia. In the past, those plumes of potent greenhouse gas released by Russian petroleum operations last year might have gone unnoticed. But armed with powerful new imaging technology, a methane-hunting satellite sniffed out the emissions and tracked them to their sources.

Thanks to rapidly advancing technology, a growing fleet of satellites is now aiming to help close the valve on methane by identifying such leaks from space. The mission is critical, with a series of recent reports sounding an increasingly urgent call to cut methane emissions. Continue reading

Finnish Food Future

Solar Foods, a Finnish company, makes a weird promise on the landing page of its website; but still, thanks to the Guardian for this story behind the story:

A soya bean field in Argentina. The study found a hectare of soya beans could feed 40 people, the solar-microbial process 520 per hectare. Photograph: Ivan Pisarenko/AFP/Getty Images

Microbes and solar power ‘could produce 10 times more food than plants’

The system would also have very little impact on the environment, in contrast to livestock farming, scientists say

Combining solar power and microbes could produce 10 times more protein than crops such as soya beans, according to a new study. Continue reading

The Gulf Stream’s Weakening Arm

Again, exceptional infographics tell an important environmental story–it is worth opening if only for the quality of the interactive illustrations:

In the Atlantic Ocean, Subtle Shifts Hint at Dramatic Dangers

The warming atmosphere is causing an arm of the powerful Gulf Stream to weaken, some scientists fear.

By MOISES VELASQUEZ-MANOFF
and JEREMY WHITE

IT’S ONE OF THE MIGHTIEST RIVERS you will never see, carrying some 30 times more water than all the world’s freshwater rivers combined. In the North Atlantic, one arm of the Gulf Stream breaks toward Iceland, transporting vast amounts of warmth far northward, by one estimate supplying Scandinavia with heat equivalent to 78,000 times its current energy use. Without this current — a heat pump on a planetary scale — scientists believe that great swaths of the world might look quite different. Continue reading

Botanical Migration

Ponderosa pine, now widely distributed in North America, were exceedingly rare during the last ice age. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Zach St. George for this:

As Climate Warms, a Rearrangement of World’s Plant Life Looms

Previous periods of rapid warming millions of years ago drastically altered plants and forests on Earth. Now, scientists see the beginnings of a more sudden, disruptive rearrangement of the world’s flora — a trend that will intensify if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in. Continue reading

Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 Pipeline, The Keystone Sequel, Must Not Happen

A section of the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline in Superior, Wis. Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune, via Associated Press

McKibben, always ahead of the curve, has this proposal for us all to consider:

The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Dead. Next Target: Line 3.

Michael Siluk/Education Images — Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The announcement this week from the Canadian company TC Energy that it was pulling the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline project was greeted with jubilation by Indigenous groups, farmers and ranchers, climate scientists and other activists who have spent the last decade fighting its construction.

The question now is whether it will be a one-off victory or a template for action going forward — as it must, if we’re serious about either climate change or human rights. Continue reading

The Very Definition Of Drought

Houseboats on the shrinking Lake Oroville reservoir in California last month. Many have now been removed from the lake. Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

We knew a bit about almonds being very thirsty trees, but when you see the trees being uprooted, it becomes even more real. The questions surrounding drought are too much for a short article, so thanks to one of our favored science writers, Henry Fountain, for keeping this focused:

The Western Drought Is Bad. Here’s What You Should Know About It.

Answers to questions about the current situation in California and the Western half of the United States.

Almond trees are removed from an orchard in Snelling, Calif. Farmers are making plans to plant less water-intensive crops because of the drought. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Much of the Western half of the United States is in the grip of a severe drought of historic proportions. Conditions are especially bad in California and the Southwest, but the drought extends into the Pacific Northwest, much of the Intermountain West, and even the Northern Plains.

Drought emergencies have been declared. Farmers and ranchers are suffering. States are facing water cutbacks. Large wildfires are burning earlier than usual. And there appears to be little relief in sight.

There are no precise parameters that define a drought, but it is generally understood to mean a period of abnormally dry weather that goes on for long enough to have an impact on water supplies, farming, livestock operations, energy production and other activities. Continue reading

Planting Trees & Second Thoughts

Way back when, the idea of planting a million trees was set in motion. I missed this Economist film and article at that time, but while pursuing planting I have seen other related concerns, each of which is worthy of consideration (as we continue planting):

The Story Behind
Climate change: the trouble with trees

Why tree planting is not the panacea some had hoped

Here you will find some of the resources used in the production of The Economist’s film “Climate change: the trouble with trees” along with exclusive additional material. It is part of the “The Story Behind”, a film series that reveals the processes that shape our video journalism. Continue reading

Exxon’s Emerging Reckoning

The pressure has been mounting for some time, but it is finally causing needed changes. There were plenty of headlines late last week, but only today do we feel this news means something potentially lasting:

ExxonMobil loses a proxy fight with green investors

An activist hedge fund succeeds in nominating at least two climate-friendly directors to the energy giant’s board

“The stone age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of petroleum.” That battle cry animates critics of Big Oil, who dream of phasing out hydrocarbons in favour of cleaner fuels and technologies. Continue reading

Healing Earth & Avoiding Amazon

Longleaf pines once covered 90 million acres from Virginia to east Texas but today only about 5 percent of historic range remains intact. Marion Clifton Davis was a modern conservationist who bought tens of thousands of acres in the Florida sandhills and turned them into a private reserve, a project aimed at restoring back the Longleaf pine forest. (Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife, Flickr, CC BY ND 2.0)

When you have 12 minutes to spare, listen to Tony Hiss talk about his new book on this excellent episode of Living On Earth, and if you decide to buy the book and want to avoid Amazon click the image of the book below:

The Boreal Forest is the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem and is a carbon sink. It’s estimated that if global warming exceeds the 3-5 degree Celsius heat stress and water scarcity could trigger extensive forest death and a dangerous release of the stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Photo: Kevin Owen, Flickr, CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Climate change is placing stress on plants and animals to rapidly adapt but without intact habitat, that could become impossible for many. Tony Hiss is an award-winning author and joins Host Bobby Bascomb to talk about his book Rescuing the Planet: Protecting Half the Land to Heal the Earth, which looks at several places across North America where communities are already working to protect habitat and biodiversity.

Transcript

BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.

During his first few days in office President Biden announced the goal of protecting 30 percent of US land and water by the year 2030 with a long term goal of 50 percent by 2050. Continue reading

Palm Oil & Us

A villager walks through a haze from fires in burned peatland at an oil palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. MUHAMMAD ADIMAJA / GREENPEACE

For all the attention we have given palm oil in the decade of posting links to stories here, strange that Jocelyn Zuckerman only appears once in our pages before today. As with fossil fuels the onus should not be entirely on individuals as consumers; collective action and public policy are essential tools to limiting the damage that corporate palm interests have been causing, relatively unchecked, for too long. We thank her for this clear, strong statement:

The Time Has Come to Rein In the Global Scourge of Palm Oil

The cultivation of palm oil, found in roughly half of U.S. grocery products, has devastated tropical ecosystems, released vast amounts of C02 into the atmosphere, and impoverished rural communities. But efforts are underway that could curb the abuses of this powerful industry.

A few weeks ago, the Sri Lankan president announced that his government would ban all imports of palm oil, with immediate effect, and ordered the country’s plantation companies to begin uprooting their oil-palm monocultures and replacing them with more environmentally friendly crops. Citing concerns about soil erosion, water scarcity, and threats to biodiversity and public health, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained that his aim was to “make the country free from oil palm plantations and palm oil consumption.” Continue reading